"The main quality-of-life issue for these patients, especially with a relapse, is brain swelling which can cause a decline in general alertness. Depending on the location of the tumor, it can cause seizures or problems with speech or vision or weakness in one side of the body," she noted.
Kennedy did collapse at President Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon in January, but that was the result of "simple fatigue," his doctors said at the time.
Kennedy's relentlessly positive attitude was also a factor in his longer-than-usual survival, experts said.
"He's always been a fighter and I think attitude is something that's quite important in trying to deal with every little setback in a very positive way, to take two steps forward for every one step back," Subramaniam said.
"I generally find that patients who are upbeat and positive do better than patients who get depressed and down," Morrison added. "A negative attitude is carried through in the prognosis and that's in all elements of disease, not just gliomas or brain tumors."
But in a sign that Kennedy knew his time was growing short, the senator last week privately asked Mass. Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state legislative leaders to change the succession law to ensure that Massachusetts would have a Senate vote when his seat became vacant, especially if the health-care reform debate came to a head, the Boston Globe reported.
Kennedy asked that Patrick, a fellow Democrat, be given authority to appoint someone to the seat temporarily before voters choose a new senator in a special election. Although Kennedy didn't specifically mention his illness or the health-care debate, he was clearly trying to make sure that the leading cause of his political career -- better health coverage for all Americans --
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